Walpole editorial | Have a Heart by Lorraine Candy
When it comes to luxury brands, ethical is cool and kindness is key, says The Sunday Times Style’s Lorraine Candy.
The world of luxury has long been aware of the need for transparency around the provenance of its creations. Both super brands and niche producers alike enjoy a tradition of dedicating time and effort to the ‘journey’ their consumer goods take before hitting retail. And this is because luxury listens to its loyal customers. So, when we ask “does luxury need a heart?”, we know the answer is “yes” because this is what customers want.
In the modern world, it makes sense to care and to show you care. Transparency and proof of a conscience are on the top of today’s more enlightened consumers’ shopping lists. The words ‘organic’, ‘ethical’, ‘local’ and ‘sustainable’ are key for this new ‘woke’ generation of aspirational shopper who wants the companies they buy from to buy into their own personal beliefs. It makes business sense, too, because companies with genuine sustainability goals show financial growth.
Brands must provide a positive, meaningful footprint to younger and more eco-conscious consumers. And most importantly they must make this more ‘green’ approach part of their communications strategy, because it is often something many have always done but not shouted about loudly enough.
Consumers today are more questioning of what they spend their money on – if they are prepared to pay for the elegance and artistry of a luxury product they want to know the story behind it. The value of what you pay for is more than the price tag, and now that value must include investment in the people of the product as much as the piece you purchase.
From Gucci no longer selling real fur to Glenmorangie’s reintroduction of native oysters into the Dornoch Firth, the luxury industry is constantly embracing sustainability and talking about it more consistently. In my mind, Kering has led the way in this ever-changing world of the luxury fashion shopper, particularly with its support of the Stella McCartney brand, which has invested a significant amount of money and time into new sustainable production processes and dedicated collaborations with organisations like Sea Shepherd Parley, which uses plastic bottles from the ocean to make textiles for clothing. Kering has given projects time to come to fruition and been fleet about changing a process when it needs to; it has also marketed this credible belief in sustainable production well.
The buy better philosophy is a good retail strategy that pays off in business terms for both luxury and high street. It is a good story to tell at a time when all luxury brands are looking for a story. Today’s ethical offering is ever more authentic and in many cases it is finally cool (witness Veja: the sell-out eco trainer).
Alongside this you have inspiring ideas like Jo Malone London’s gardens support for mental health charities and projects like Cadogan’s Pavilion Road scheme, which gives small-scale artisans prime retail space for reduced rates, or Yoox Net-a-Porter’s CodeLab, which encourages school aged girls to learn computer coding. In the same way that the younger luxury shopper looks for ethical awareness in the companies they want to work for today, they desire a heart in the businesses they shop from; what people are essentially asking is “are you similar to me?” from employers and retail. Kindness as a guiding principle seems to be the overarching trend here, and I witness it every day on social media as a message opposing the darker side of the internet.
People also want diversity – they want the businesses they deal with to reflect society as a whole and to reflect the way they grew up and the people they are surrounded by. The key, of course, is to be authentic about having a heart and not just paying lip service with the liberal use of the words attached to the movement. As with all affairs of the heart the truth will always out.